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Taiwan minister set for historic visit to China

Taiwan's minister in charge of China affairs said on Tuesday he plans to visit the mainland next month in a landmark trip that marks the first official contact between the two former bitter rivals in six decades.

TAIPEI: Taiwan's minister in charge of China affairs said on Tuesday he plans to visit the mainland next month in a landmark trip that marks the first official contact between the two former bitter rivals in six decades.

Wang Yu-chi, chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council which formulates the island's China policy, is scheduled to fly to the mainland on February 11 to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Zhijun, China's Taiwan Affairs Office chief.

The meeting in Nanjing in China's eastern Jiangsu province symbolises persistent efforts to normalise relations in recent years after a decades-long freeze.

"The trip has crucial implications for further institutionalisation of the ties between the two sides of the Straits," Wang told a press briefing.

"As the first Mainland Affairs Council chairman to visit the mainland, I feel my responsibility is arduous and the road long."

In June 2010, Taiwan and China signed the landmark Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, a pact widely characterised as the boldest step yet towards reconciliation since the two were split in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

However, the hard-won trade pact, along with other achievements like direct flights, was the result of negotiations by quasi-official bodies from each side as Taipei and Beijing still had no official contact, despite the fast-warming ties.

Wang will visit the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official title) and deliver a speech at Nanjing University the next day, before proceeding to Shanghai.

Long-frosty relations between Taiwan and its giant neighbour have improved significantly since Ma Ying-jeou of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party came to power in 2008. He was re-elected in January 2012.

Since Taiwan's split from China 65 years ago, Beijing has refused to renounce the possibility of using force to take back the island, which it regards as a rebel region awaiting reunification with the mainland.

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